Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Join me in welcoming Pamela Bitterman to Highlighted Author.
Pam Bitterman is an explorer in every sense of the word, she has been a mediator, a teacher of maritime history and seamanship at the San Diego Maritime Museum, a devoted mother, and much more. She shares her amazing experiences in the books she writes: Muzungu, Sailing To The Far Horizon, “When This is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read, and there are more to come.
Welcome to Highlighted Author, Pam. What prompted you to share your amazing stories and life as an author? Have you always planned to pen your experiences, or did someone or something inspire you to do so.
I am not certain when I made the conscious commitment to be a writer, but I do know that the idea had been germinating in my subconscious since early childhood when my mom first planted it there. She would maternally fertilize this little nugget of a notion every couple of years, patiently grooming into my psyche her profound belief that, although being a “late bloomer” as she lovingly phrased it, I would be amazing when the time was right. The right time for me to write arrived when I too was a mother, and my own mom became ill. She died before she was able to see my first book published. But she was then, and I believe still is, somewhere, winking and smiling.
With so much going on in your life, how do you manage your writing? As an author, I know how much effort goes into a work…time, emotions, thought, work!
I probably write for the same reason most of us do. We wield that pen or pound those keys or scream into that recorder, to purge stuff out of us. Sadness, confusion, joy. Fury. Love. On paper, our words become tangible and manageable and cathartic, often taking on a life of their own. In the quiet and solitude, I am compelled to keep kneading those words until I get them just so, which is hugely satisfying. Virtually never happens for me in live conversation, I can tell you!
Typically the majority of us are better writers than we are speakers, correct? Well, I’ve discovered that I am often even a better writer than I am a thinker! There are those golden moments when, much to my surprise and delight, pure magic will appear on my page. These are without a doubt my greatest times as a writer.
If you could choose one person who was your biggest influence or supporter, who would it be?
I have been fortunate to be able to have “lived a big life”, as my dad was fond of saying. As I result, I do feel that I may have some unique and interesting adventures to share. If I didn’t know me, I think I would want to read about the people and places I’ve been lucky enough to experience. I hope others will feel that way.
If you could choose one person that stands out in your heart and mind from our travels, who would it be? Why are they so memorable to you?
If I had to pick who from my travels stand out in my mind and heart, they would be the folks I lost along the way. The ones who are gone always seem to leave the deepest impression. There are people I left behind on my journey, many of whom, although I somehow knew I would probably never see again, I now know I will miss every day, for the rest of my life.
Muzungu was released in February 2011.
Muzungu: The Swahilli word for white folks.
Translation: Confused person wandering about.
“Order this phone today”some sweet confection-nicknamed, neon-colored, ultra sleek mobile” and help wipe out AIDS in Africa!” the television commanded me within minutes of my collapsing for the first time in my Southern California living room after spending nearly two months in Africa. Now, what does that mean? I pondered. The next morning, a headline in the fat newspaper on my doorstep informed me that a tiny band of rebel fighters trapped somewhere in the African jungle were caught killing mountain gorillas. They were eating them to survive. Some American animal activist group was positively outraged. “Yes, outrageous,” I sighed.
Since returning home, reflecting on the time I spent in Kenya has proved to be a frustrating exercise. Throughout my journey I toted my copy of National Geographic, the issue on which the title page flashed, Africa: Whatever you thought, think again. I was hoping that somewhere in this illustrious expose I would find validation for the conflicting messages I was receiving. To make matters more confounding, from the moment my plane touched down back on U.S. soil I was buried in an avalanche of material insidiously designed to debunk my own eyewitness accounts. As a result I began to question my perceptions, which in turn caused my intention to commit the experience to print to stutter and then stall out completely. I feared that if I wrote an honest appraisal of my adventure I would be vilified. Even worse, I was afraid that what I wrote would have a deleterious effect on the people of Kenya, the people I went there to help. Then later on, while leafing through the stack of magazines that had piled up in my absence, I stumbled upon an article that casually discarded the term hunger, substituting in its place the new PC term, low food security, when describing the unpardonable state of the starving multitudes on the planet. It was at that moment that I pledged to tell my story.
Curious as to how the media’s tone when dealing with current issues jived with my personal impressions, I collected every Dark Continent news tidbit that cycled down the pike. Culling information from a variety of sources and comparing it with anecdotes from my own journey, I ferreted out what I hoped amounted to the litmus test for a Kenyan reality check. Materials from newspapers to newsmagazines, adventure journals to journals on health, and nonprofit charitable organizations to profiteering political organizations, were referenced and offset against my own experiences. As a result I began to suspect that the media’s Africa had taken on a life of its own and that tragically that life had precious little to do with improving the lives of Africans. It became increasingly apparent that although my story was certain to be a great many things, one thing it would never be was representative of the norm. I am changed as a result of my trip to Kenya though not in any way formerly anticipated. In addition to acknowledging the existence of the established abominations at work in Kenya, I expose some lesser-known evils. In the end I wrestle a few slippery demons of my own.
David arrived home to San Diego six months after I did. I called him immediately and we got together to catch up. He seemed like the same old David, ”happy, kind, helpful, manic, and refreshingly clear-eyed and unsentimental about the situation in Maseno. I was thrilled to have him back, had dozens of ideas to run past him, and felt such a profound sense of comradeship that I became cautiously optimistic about completing the book. My Kenyan cohort confirmed everything I remembered, sensed, questioned, and concluded about our shared experience at St. Philip’s. I am not crazy . . . I consoled myself. Then David stepped off the front porch of his and Michael’s sweet little cottage, strolled down his lovely tree-lined street, settled beneath a blossoming willow on a soft green lawn, and calmly sent a bullet through his brain.
Muzungu Book Trailer
You can get your own copy of Muzungu at Amazon.com
I want to apologize to all those who tried leave a comment for Pam this week. Blogger has had issues with this service. Please take a moment and visit her website through the link above and leave word with her there. She would like very much to thank all of you personally.
Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one. This is a most valuable and sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Abraham Lincoln